The Best In All Of Us

When the news flashed across the television screen Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, my first thoughts were of the 9/11 victims and John and Betsy Rigo.

John was a 1975 St. Thomas alumnus who was in his office on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the building at 8:46 a.m. EDT on Sept. 11, 2001.

Betsy, John’s wife, held out hope that day that he might not have arrived at the tower before the terroristic attack, but she never heard from him and his body never was found. Betsy, family and friends gathered seven months later to pay tribute to John at a memorial service, where the minister presented her with cross forged from the steel remains of the tower. The inscription:

“World Trade Center Tower #1. Never forget. Sept. 11, 2001.”

Four years ago, Betsy welcomed photographer Elias Adams and me into the home that she and John had shared on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for a story for St. Thomas magazine. She talked about his job as a worker’s compensation insurance executive, his family and his love for everything from learning French and how to play the piano to sailing, golfing, quoting Winston Churchill, listening to Frank Sinatra and smoking a Cuban cigar.

Later that afternoon, we walked from Betsy’s house to Central Park, where she showed me a bench. The inscription on a steel plate gave me a chill the first time I saw it, and still gives me a chill when I think about it today:

“Beloved JMR. Devoted husband, son, brother, uncle, friend and colleague. You are the best in all of us.”

That reflects how loved John was. And that’s why, whenever I read about 9/11, I think of John and Betsy and all of the other victims of that tragic day, and I say a prayer for them. They do represent the best in all of us.

Betsy gave Eli and me a “keepsake” that day. She opened John’s humidor and handed each one of us a Cuban cigar, insisting that we take one. “Maybe they still are good,” she said. They felt a little dry and hard to the touch, but I knew how to solve that minor problem.

The cigar is in my humidor, long ago restored to appropriate smoking condition, but I have been waiting for the right occasion. I almost lit it the other night when I heard of Bin Laden’s death but it was late and I was tired.

I have a better plan. On the evening of Sept. 11, 2011 – the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 – I will sit on my deck, light John’s cigar, say a prayer and toast a man who represented the best in all of us.